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Bishop Street business owners want peace

by Matthew Lapierre October 10, 2017 0 comment

Construction on downtown street has caused some to consider closing up shop

Restaurant and bar owners on Bishop Street want financial compensation from the city of Montreal for lost revenue due to the construction of a new metro ventilation station that’s driving customers away.

According to the the Société de transport de Montréal, the station will replace an aging one on De la Montagne Street and provide fresh air to the green line between the Peel and Guy-Concordia stations. The STM said work on the station began in October 2016 and should be finished by mid-2020.

That’s too long for Carlo Zahabi, the owner of Le Gourmet Burger, a restaurant on Bishop Street that’s been hit hard by the construction. He said sales have dropped by as much as 60 per cent since the work began.

“I’m three to four months behind on my rent,” Zahabi said. “It’s a real possibility that I’ll have to close down.”

In April, Zahabi and a coalition of Bishop Street business owners filed a lawsuit against the city of Montreal and the STM requesting $2,500 compensation for every month of construction, and $25,000 to commision a private engineering firm to inspect the project and see if it could be done faster. The coalition also wants free advertising for their businesses in the nearby Peel and Guy-Concordia metro stations.

Last week, a judge denied the coalition’s request for temporary compensation—which would have given the businesses financial aid before the case went to trial. It’s a decision that seriously hurts the businesses’ ability to stay open even up until the trial date which will likely only take place in 2019, according to Legal Logik, the firm representing the merchants.

“We tried to show [the judge] that it was urgent,” said Gaby Nassar, the owner of Kafein, a café-bar on Bishop Street affected by the construction. “Now the delays will be substantial.”

The construction turned a usually busy street into a tangle of concrete barriers and metal fences. On their website, the STM urged pedestrians and cyclists to avoid the section of Bishop Street where the work is taking place.

“They’re blocking access to my restaurant with a fence,” Zahabi said. “It’s a dead end sidewalk, and they put up a sign that says ‘Trottoir Barré.’ Who’s going to come down there?”

Both Nassar and Zahabi said they’re unhappy with the way the STM notified them the work was going to start.

“[The STM] said they sent fliers,” Zahabi claimed. “That’s not any way to notify a business of construction in front of their place. They should have prepared a plan to save us before they started the work.”

Nassar agreed: “They could have approached us months in advance to talk instead of letting us cry for help.”

In February, the city of Montreal unveiled a plan to reconstruct a large part of St-Hubert Street. The work is slated to begin in the summer of 2018 and continue until 2021. The city announced it will be offering financial compensation to St-Hubert Street merchants who lose business as a result of the construction.

The city did not offer any compensation to the merchants on Bishop Street.

“[The city] told us [they have many] resources for financial programs to help businesses out when there’s construction, but for some reason we’re an exception,” Zahabi said. “I don’t see any exception. It’s all work.”

According to Zahabi, the construction has already forced two restaurants on Bishop Street to close and another to file for bankruptcy.

The coalition of Bishop Street merchants is determined to continue their legal battle against the STM and the city of Montreal. The STM refused to comment on the Bishop Street construction, noting that information about the project is available on their website.

“It’s a situation that needs a bit of attention,” Nassar said. “The city is being slow and not active. We’re not going to give up. My business has been here 15 years. We’re going to keep fighting.”

Photo by Alex Hutchins

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